“There are rich teams and there are poor teams and then there’s fifty feet of crap, and then there’s us.” This quote begins the trailer to this month’s Moneyball, which is the story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics, who had the second lowest payroll in the American League (40 million), yet won the most games (102). Billy Beane, Oakland’s General Manager, used statistical market inefficiencies to build a winning team full of undervalued stars. Almost a decade has passed since that team defied expectations, and with big market ballclubs spending more and more each season since, a low payroll team doesn’t seem to have much of a shot anymore.
So Centives decided to create a fantasy 25-man roster of undervalued players from this season in the spirit of Moneyball, to show that there is still hope for teams to use statistical analysis to create a World Series quality team for less. To create this team, Centives looked at the salaries of players in the Major League Baseball and compared it to their WARP. The WARP statistic is the “Wins Above Replacement Player” and is an estimate of how many wins a given player has added to the team. (You can read more about WARP over here.) Centives then built a team of players by maximizing the difference between a player’s salary and his WARP.
The Centives fantasy baseball team had a WARP of 96.4. With such a high WARP, the team would statistically be expected to win 127 of the 162 games this baseball season – more wins in a season than any other team in history. Of the 152 games that have been played so far this year, the Centives lineup would be expected to win 119 games. Yet this team would only cost about $22 million in player salaries. To put things in perspective, the Yankees cost $202 million and have won 92 games so far. The Phillies cost $173 million and have won 98 games. The Red Sox cost $162 million and have won 88 games. In terms of the WARP statistic, the Yankees pay 3.48 million per WARP, the Phillies pay 3.84 million, and the Red Sox pay 3.17 million. The Centives team pays just 0.30 million per WARP.
Is it really possible to create a team that is significantly better than the current top teams in baseball for just 10-15% of the cost? A few of the players on the team can be bought on the cheap because they are on rookie contracts, and couldn’t be purchased for the same low price on the open market. Yet there exist players that are definitely undervalued. Ryan Roberts, a third baseman, has a WARP that is more than twice as much as third baseman Mark Reynolds, yet he makes 13 times less than Reynolds. Billy Beane’s dream of using statistics to create a cheap world class team is clearly still a possibility.
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